Turkey: Passing the Torch

The Thanksgiving turkey has alwys represented some ellusive, god-like in its perfection sort of thing. As far as I can remember, it’s always been prepared by my mom. As a child, I felt I was observing some sort of ancient, mystic right when my grandmother would come over to the house and baste the turkey, or mom would take it out of the oven part of the way through to practice some sort of voodoo on it. The smells eminating from it were only proof of its higher level of being. For most of my life, the turkey remained shrouded in mystery.

Although not necessarily chronicled here, I have been pretty brave in the kicthen. I started out with baking, and would attempt any dessert recipe I could find, the more complex and alluring the better. I remember when I crossed over into the scary world of “meat,” beginning with baking a simple fish or some chicken. Now I’m willing to try any recipe that comes my way, whether dessert, simple chicken, a NY strip, or a delicate and fancy dish. As long as I have a free weekend, I’m raring to try something new.

One thing I have never tried, however, has been the turkey.

Sure I’ve slow-roasted pork, but that manages to find a place in a normal dinner in a normal week. Roasting a turkey, on the other hand, is reserved for two days: Thanksgiving and Christmas (at least in my family). There’s nothing really rational about this when you stop to think about it, it’s just a large bird that you stick in the oven, but the almost ritualistic preparation of the turkey always prevented it from lowering itself to the level of normal weekday fare.

When I first thought of cooking a turkey on my own, I was terrified. My mom was the arbiter of good turkey, and to try and surpass her expertise–especially as far as my dad is concerned–was a task too daunting and stressful to even think about. Plus, it involves a weird family power play: while I had always been deferential to my mom, baking a turkey meant challenging that family-old standard and putting your own skill to the test. Even though you want to succeed and produce the better-tasting turkey, do you really want to usurp such a loved monarch?

As I grew older and my culinary skill became more experienced, the “myth of the turkey” slowly began to degrade. TV and magazines both told me that the turkey WASN’T impossible, and in fact was very do-able. They even offered variations on the traditional, such as deep fried turkey or turkey with international seasoning and fixings. These variations never really appealed to me, however. I was mainly concerned with the traditional and the set, the eternal Thanksgiving turkey. Nevertheless, the curiosity sparked deep within, and subconsciously I began craving the chance to test my roasting prowess.

Last year my husband and I hosted Thanksgiving at our new house. For some reason, this coupe divided the family and only half attended. Nevertheless, it was a symbolic passing of the torch and marked my assension into the “adult” world of the family realm. Thankfully mom still wanted to cook the turkey, and I shelled out a few dessert marvels like normal.

Back in my mind, and perhaps my mom’s too, was the thought that someday, the turkey duties would be mine.

Steadily my desire to cook the turkey has been growing, but it’s not something I can claim for myself. The task of preparing the turkey must be passed on willingly by my mom, not seized through an act that would likely create ill will or bad blood. I must make it clear that I’m not resentful of this at all, nor am I resentful of my place in the Thanksgiving-preparation world. Silently I waited until I was deemed worthy enough to handle the elusive bird.

If there’s one thing about life that I can say is true, it’s that life likes to throw wrenches in the gears when everything is chugging along as planned. Only a few weeks away from Thanksgiving, my mom is lying in a hospital bed after a bad bike accident. Fortunately and Thankfully, mom will be ok and will eventually but up and moving again, but her mobility for six weeks will be considerably limited. And Thanksgiving falls within those six weeks.

And the turkey.

However, along with mom’s accident comes another big event: I get to cook the turkey. I will not be completely unsupervised, however, and mom will be right there instructing me and making sure I do everything right. I wouldn’t have it any other way, actually. Rather than my mom cooking the turkey herself, I will be her hands, following a recipe just as they have followed others in the past. And even though I’ll be the one actually preparing the turkey, mom will still be there to show me all the rituals that go along with making the Thanksgiving turkey. I like to think of it as us sharing the crown, or mom hanging onto the crown and me carrying the train of her robe behind her.

The turkey still carries some sort of mysticism for me and still weilds some sort of respect and reverence over me. Until I actually get my hands dirty and shove that bird full of ingredients, it probably will continue to evoke this reverential vision. Nevertheless, hopefully through mom’s instruction it will not fall from others’ expectations and memories as a near-perfect and divine thing. If the torch can be passed slowly without dropping it, that’s definitely something to be thankful for.


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November 2007
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All posts and images copyright 2008 & 2009 Jenny Robertson, unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Any use of images without prior written consent is prohibited.
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